NEXT GENERATION NEWSROOM: Planting seeds for the next generation of local journalists

Andy Flynn holds a Pentax K1000 film camera while covering the arrival of President Bill Clinton, wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea at the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear on Aug. 18, 2000. The first lady was a candidate for a New York seat in the U.S. Senate at the time. The following day was the president’s 54th birthday. Flynn, 30 years old at the time, was the managing editor of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Air Force One is on the runway behind him. (Photo provided)

Thinking about my career path, I wondered, “How did I end up working in a newsroom in Saranac Lake?”

To help answer that question, I made a list of the opportunities I had at Tupper Lake High School (class of 1987) and SUNY Fredonia (class of 1991) that influenced my career.

And I’ve connected the dots — from those early school experiences to my current job and what the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News are doing with the Next Generation Newsroom program to create educational pathways for local students to become professional journalists.

Guidance office

The computer at the Tupper Lake High School guidance counselor’s office was partially prophetic. This was 1986 or 1987, I was a junior or senior, and there was a program designed for students to explore career possibilities — titles, income levels, descriptions, etc. — based on your interests. Two of my top results were humorist (Garrison Keillor and Dave Barry were big back then) and editor. They both sounded interesting, but I didn’t pursue either one of them at that point. Instead, I decided to go to SUNY Fredonia to study music business and, after quickly deciding that music business wasn’t for me, I changed my major to radio production — to produce radio documentaries as a career.

The only editor I knew in high school was Louis Simmons, the author of “Mostly Spruce and Hemlock” and a member of the editorial staff at the Tupper Lake Free Press. I could see his house on Lake Street from my backyard on Park Street, and I was his paper boy before I was old enough to work at McDonald’s. (I delivered the Syracuse Post Standard and Watertown Daily Times, both morning papers, before I went to school each day.) I also interviewed Mr. Simmons in college for a film course paper, asking him questions about the history of the State Theater and life in Tupper Lake during the Great Depression.

Contemplating newspaper work, I had an epiphany: People who worked at the Free Press stayed for so long that if I ever wanted to work there, I’d have to wait until someone died. I didn’t want to wait that long, so I put the newspaper business out of my mind and concentrated on storytelling over the radio waves.


All my English teachers had some kind of an impact on my life, but I never really liked the subject until I was a high school senior.

My 12th grade English teacher was Greg Pratt, who received the Outstanding Educator award during my high school graduation. He taught me how to write in a way that made sense, and it was his informal essay assignments that really helped me find a voice. Until then, English class assignments seemed to be more about writing book reports than communicating with readers. But those essays, which were written like newspaper columns, gave me an avenue to express myself and tell a story. As my sights were set on the music business, many of these essays were opinion pieces inspired by reviews in Rolling Stone magazine; I remember writing one about the 1986 review of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” album.

Mr. Pratt taught me to start my essays with “Although, nevertheless, because.” These are the building blocks of creating a thesis statement. I took that lesson and ran with it … all the way to college, where I shared this nugget of wisdom with my classmates. He is the reason I assign columns to interns in our Next Generation Newsroom — to help them hone their storytelling skills and find their voices.

Then, in college, I learned to write for radio thanks to professor Dan Berggren. I worked for the college radio station, WCVF-FM, hosting music shows, working in the news department and as the community service director. And I was a radio production intern for one semester at 97 Rock as a junior, taking the bus twice a week from campus to downtown Buffalo. I also had the opportunity to write for my college newspaper, The Leader — as a guest writer, not a staff writer — after taking a journalism course. It was my first opportunity to write something for print … and the first time opening myself up for public criticism, which one of my communication professors did as he attacked my reporting in a letter to the editor. This all helped me prepare for a life in the newsroom.


My 10th grade biology teacher, Paul Grulich, was the adviser of the photography club. Students could sign out cameras to take pictures on their own time. I grew up with the point-and-shoot film cameras of the 1970s and 1980s, but the photography club gave me the opportunity to use a manual focus SLR film camera that professionals were using: a Pentax K1000. After college, my brother gave me a Pentax K1000, and that’s what I used in 1994 when I was hired as the Saranac Lake reporter at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. I used it professionally until we closed the darkroom in 2000 after we began using digital cameras.

It was that opportunity to use a professional camera in high school that gave me the idea to equip our middle/high school and college interns with professional cameras in our Saranac Lake newsroom. I recently wrote a grant for the Next Generation Newsroom program to buy three mirrorless SLR cameras and three voice recorders so our interns could use professional equipment as they work side-by-side with our reporters and editors.

Contest: 1986

Although I began acting in the drama club in seventh grade, it wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I entered a public speaking contest. It was 38 years go. The American Legion Benjamin Churco Post 220 in Tupper Lake sponsored an oratorical contest for students to write about one aspect of the U.S. Constitution and — onstage in the auditorium — give a speech, debate-style, arguing a point. It combined research and opinion writing with public speaking, and the process reminds me of writing a newspaper editorial. I don’t recall which part of the Constitution I spoke about, but I absolutely remember that experience. It showed me, well before social media, that I had a voice and I could share opinions in a public setting.

It’s this opportunity that influenced my decision to create a contest for the Next Generation Newsroom. This spring, the newspapers are sponsoring a Biography/Personal Profile writing contest for local students.

If I remember correctly, only three Tupper Lake students entered the 1986 contest — a senior, a junior (me) and a sophomore. Afterward, I got my picture in the paper as a guest of the Tupper Lake Rotary Club — printed in the Feb. 26, 1986, issue of the Tupper Lake Free Press. I can’t wait to put the photos of this year’s writing contest winners in our newspapers.

The type of writing contest for the Next Generation Newsroom was influenced by my student days at the L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake. I’m not sure which grade, but we were asked to write about a person for English class. I chose to write about my maternal grandmother, Julia (Kaplinski) Rondeau, who was still alive at the time. It was the first Biography/Personal Profile I’d ever written, and I still have it somewhere in the house. This type of story is a staple in small-town newspapers, as we celebrate the lives of community members, so that’s why I chose the Biography/Personal Profile for this year’s contest.

Planting seeds

There have been many influences that got me to the Saranac Lake newsroom — opportunities and people — in elementary, junior and senior high school and college. Collectively, they planted different types of “experience” seeds and helped me build a career in journalism.

As I entered my 54th year of life last September, I began to think about what I’d leave behind as a result of more than 30 years in the newsroom. So I came up with the Next Generation Newsroom.

I’d like to help local students find a way to their own newsrooms — whether it’s print, digital or broadcast. If we don’t invest in our youth, and show them that this is an important vocation, we won’t have vibrant newsrooms in the future. We’ll just have news deserts. And that would be a shame, especially since we can prevent that from happening. All it takes is a vision, a lot of hard work and a long-term commitment.

It’s time for us to pay it forward.

For more information about the Next Generation Newsroom, contact me at aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com or visit http://tinyurl.com/3hxhcjes.

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